Tuesday, October 13, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 14.42: A Second Law of Mindfulness?

pranaShTam a-mRtaM tasya
yasya viprasRtaa smRtiH
hasta-stham a-mRtam tasya
yasya kaaya-gataa smRtiH

- = - - - = = -
= - = - - = - =
= = - - - = = -
= - = - - = - =

The nectar of immortality is lost to him

Whose mindfulness dissipates;

The nectar exists in the hands of him

Whose mindfulness pervades his body.

It may sound like the Buddha is discussing two blokes here -- a saintly one who is ever mindful and a sinful one who isn’t. I don’t necessarily read the verse like that. Granted, my feeling is not reliable, but I feel that one bloke can experience in the space of one morning that mindfulness pervades his body and that mindfulness has almost totally dissipated.

If the interpretation I have just expressed is valid, it means that, sadly, even the nectar of immortality is not for keeps. At the same time it means that, happily, even some horrible sinful backslider to whom the nectar has been temporarily lost, might be able, by covering himself in mindfulness, to get his dirty paws once more upon the nectar of immortality.

Having written the above and then slept upon it, it occurs to me that the problem with interpreting the Buddha’s words on the basis of one’s own experience is the old problem of faulty sensory appreciation. Just because I feel it to be so does not mean that it is so.

Another approach, one that circumvents the unreliability of my own feeling, is to seek parallels in the words of revered teachers.

The Alexander teacher Walter Carrington in his book Thinking Aloud, for example (paraphrasing from memory) says that if one carries on with the Alexander process giving the orders “Neck to be free, head forward and up, back to lengthen and widen, knees forwards and away,” the wish that those words express gradually becomes part of what a person wants all of the time. When you have reached that point, Walter says, you have got it made. Before you have reached that point, you haven’t.

The kind of mindfulness that Walter is describing includes a wish, not necessarily verbalized, for energy to keep flowing in certain directions, mainly up. And the wish itself has a kind of energy of its own. As with all energy, this energy has an inherent tendency to dissipate, unless prevented from doing so. But some people, it would seem, become very adept at such prevention.

The Zen Master Eihei Dogen, for another example, finishes his rules of sitting-zen (Fukan-zazengi) with the following sentences:


If you practise like this for a long time, you will surely become like this. The treasury of jewels will spontaneously open up, for you to accept and use as you like.

EH Johnston:
Lost is the everlasting good for him whose attention is distracted ; it is within the grasp of him whose attention is directed to his body.

Linda Covill:
Deathlessness is lost to him whose mindfulness goes outwards, but when he stays mindful of his body, he holds deathlessness in his hand.

pranaShTam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. lost , disappeared , vanished , ceased , gone , perished , destroyed , annihilated
a-mRtam (nom. sg.) : n. the nectar (conferring immortality)
tasya (gen.): to/of/for him

yasya (gen): of who
viprasRtaa (nom. sg. f.): mfn. spread , extended , diffused
smRtiH (nom. sg.): f. remembrance, mindfulness, etc.

hasta-stham (nom. sg. n.): mfn. being in or held with the hand
hasta: hand
stha: standing , staying , abiding , being situated in , existing or being in
a-mRtam (nom. sg.): n. the nectar of immortality
tasya (gen.): to/of/for him

yasya (gen): of who
kaaya: body
gataa (nom. sg. f.): come to , approached , arrived at , being in , situated in , contained in
smRtiH (nom. sg.): f. remembrance, mindfulness, etc.

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